Movie Review: 'The Descendants' offers a fine cast headed by George Clooney
The Academy Award nominated film "The Descendants," now playing at the Fandango Galaxy movie house in Carson City, is a hard-eyed romantic comedy with an ensemble cast headed by George Clooney, the only name star aboard.
Doesn't matter, this is a fine cast from Clooney as Matt King to Judy Greer as Julie Speer, wife of a real estate salesman who … but let's let that wait.
The film opens with a scene of an attractive woman riding a boat. She's laughing in the wind. This is before an of the opening credits. No explanation given or needed.
Then Clooney comes in to deny Hawaii, where the movie takes place, is a paradise, backed by scruffy scenes of the city. Matt King is a well-do-do lawyer as well as the sole trustee for 25,000 acres of land on Kauai which he is soon going to have to sell due to state inheritance laws. He is married but his wife is in the hospital in a coma from which he has been told she will not come out of.
He lives with his 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller, fine as something other than the "cute" kid) while daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodly, another real find who does more acting with the twitch of a mouth than most actors ever dream of) is off on another island recovering from addiction and a fierce dislike of her comatose mother, unexplained at first.
Matt and Scottie bring Alex home and while she is antagonistic about her mother she finally fells Matt that Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie, she of the opening clip) was having an affair with a man named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Alexandra tells Matt this while swimming in their unkempt pool, and in a wrenching underwater scene she vents her grief.
Matt goes dashing out to friends' house where he questions the couple about the affair. They confirm it.
It's at the point the Clooney, with silver streaks in his hair, seems to physically shrink inside himself, as if the news was too much for him. He seems to lose body but gains moral structure.
But it's not all dreary. Lots of laughs of the right kind at the right times.
Matt tells his daughters that Elizabeth is going to die when they take her off life support, as she had requested at one time.
Matt and his daughters take a drive to a remote part of Kauai which is part of the trust. The scene is underplayed as a cousin explains where the golf course and hotel would go when the trust is broken up and sold. The view is indeed beautiful and the clash with modern business and natural beauty is understated.
Matt finally confronts his wife's lover who admits that it was just a lark for him, although he says Elizabeth loved him. As Alex and Matt leave Matt kisses Speer's wife Julie full on the mouth as a kind of signal that her marriage was not sound.
Later in Elizabeth's hospital room Julie (superb in her role) comes with a bouquet of flowers and in front of Matt tells the comatose Elizabeth that she forgives her for destroying her marriage and family.
Matt afterwards avoids the easy way out of also forgiving Elizabeth as well; instead he simply says goodbye with love.
There's a kind on interlude where Matt and his daughters add Elizabeth's ashes to the ocean. It's a quiet coda to Elizabeth whom we saw often in her hospital bed unmoving.
Matt then meets with all the cousins to announce the end of he trust and the pot of gold for all. But he reads the agreement and decides not to break up the trust but to fight to keep it intact --- as a family they owe that the Hawaii.
A quiet ending, fully in tone with the film as the three survivors settle on coach under Elizabeth's blanket, share ice cream and watch TV.
Director Alexander Payne (who wrote the final screenplay with others) uses a deft hand to meld all these elements into a rich whole. He doesn't stoop to sentimentality but touches it all with simple sentiment. He's fortunate to have such a splendid cast and an original such as Clooney to lead them. Oscar bound. Possibly.
--- Sam Bauman
- George Clooney as Matt King
- Shailene Woodley as Alexandra "Alex" King
- Judy Greer as Julie Speer
- Beau Bridges as Cousin Hugh
- Nick Krause as Sid
- Amara Miller as Scottie King
- Matthew Lillard as Brian Speer
- Robert Forster as Scott Thorson
- Patricia Hastie as Elizabeth King
- Mary Birdsong as Kai Mitchell
- Rob Huebel as Mark Mitchell
- Milt Kogan as Dr. Johnston
- Laird Hamilton as Troy Cook
- Michael Ontkean as Cousin Milo
- Matt Corboy as Cousin Ralph
- Celia Kenney as Reina
Directed by Alexander Payne
Produced by Jim Burke
Screenplay by Alexander Payne
Based on The Descendants by
Kaui Hart Hemmings
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Phedon Papamichael
Editing by Kevin Tent Studio Ad Hominem Enterprises
Running time 115 minutes, rated R because of language although that is a joke.